Carlos Alcaraz scored his best career win on
Spanish soil Friday at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. After cruising past
countryman Jaume Munar earlier in the day, the 18-year-old
overcame a comeback charge from top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach his fourth semi-final
of the season with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 victory.

Alcaraz looked on course for a relatively routine victory after
going up by a set and a double break, but needed to regroup after Tsitsipas
dominated the close of the middle stanza. He did that and more as he jumped out
to a 4-0 lead in the decider, letting out his biggest roar of the match as he
scored a momentum-shifting break to open the set.

“Probably my biggest win on clay court. It was
unbelievable,” said Alcaraz, who will crack the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings
for the first time on Monday. “Unbelievable game that I played,
unbelievable atmosphere that I lived today on court. It was unbelievable
everything. The atmosphere here, the crowd, the level that I played, the level
of the match. It was incredible.”

Each of the three ATP Head2Head matchups in this blossoming rivalry
have been thrillers of supreme quality, with Alcaraz edging the Greek on all
three occasions. 

In their first clay-court meeting, both men were eager to attack
on Pista Rafa Nadal. Both backed up strong serving with vicious ground strokes
as they battled to 4-all in the opening set without a sniff of a break chance.
But Alcaraz made his move in the ninth game with a familiar tactic: After heavy
hitting brought up three break points at 0/40, a clever drop shot left
Tsitsipas stranded.

Alcaraz won 12 of the last 13 points in the stanza. It ended
with a contentious moment, as a frustrated Tsitsipas unloaded on a forehand
passing shot that missed badly but forced his opponent to duck at the net.
Alcaraz stared down Tsitsipas as the Spanish crowd whistled their disapproval,
while the Greek walked to his chair, unmoved.

It seemed Alcaraz would have the final say as he rode a wave of
winners to a double break lead in the second. But after he broke at love for
4-1, Tsitsipas gradually worked his way back into the match. Finding joy in
longer rallies both on serve and return, Tsitsipas reeled off four straight
games to get back on serve. As he raised his level, Alcaraz’s dipped. The trend
continued in the 12th game of the set, when an Alcaraz error handed Tsitsipas
parity.

Alcaraz
left the court for a comfort break prior to the third set, and returned with a
fresh focus. A jumping fist pump punctuated his break of serve to open the
decider as he played to the the home support.

“I went to the bathroom just to turn off my mind, just
trying to change what I played at the end of the second set, just to be
focussed on the third set,” he explained. “Forget everything in the
match and just give 100 per cent in the third set.”

Tsitsipas left the court himself after falling behind 0-3, but
was assessed two separate point penalties for the mid-set break and a time
violation after a spirited discussion with the chair umpire.

Down 0-4, Tsitsipas summoned one last surge to create two break
points at 1-4, but was foiled by the defense of Alcaraz. The Spaniard followed
some lightning-fast retrieving with a bevy of backhand winners to move ahead
5-1, then served out the match to love before a respectful post-match
handshake.

Alcaraz, who will next face 10th seed Alex de Minaur in Saturday’s semis, is seeking a
third trophy of the 2022 season and a second in April following his maiden ATP
Masters 1000 triumph in Miami.

“I think I beat the favourite,” he said of his win
over the World No. 5. “I’m playing an incredible level. And I think that
I’m ready to get the title.”

When Alcaraz officially enters the Top 10 on Monday, he will do
so at the same age, on the same date and following the same tournament as Rafael Nadal in 2005.

Tsitsipas, who won his second straight Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title last week, was
aiming to return to the Barcelona final for a second straight year.

 

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2022-04-23

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